Traditional scoring still works best on bowling lanes

Steve Brownlee

If you watched the World Bowling Tour Championship finals on ESPN just over two weeks ago on Jan. 7, you may have noticed a slightly different scoring system used.

It was still based on usual bowling scoring, where a premium is placed on strikes, with spares important to make instead of leaving frames open.

But for some reason, these World Bowling people just can’t leave well enough alone.

The World Bowling Tour was set up to conduct Pro Bowlers Association-style tournaments all around the world.

It’s a way for American pros — and really for any pros in the world that want top-level competition — to bowl something close to a full-time schedule after the PBA has drastically cut back on its tournaments. I’m pretty sure this has been done to reduce expenses so the PBA can simply survive.

I discovered during a little internet research that this isn’t the first time the World Bowling people have tinkered with scoring.

This time around, they’re claiming they’ve streamlined the scoring process. I’m not so sure it’s that simple.

The major change is that a strike is worth 30 points. Period. In traditional bowling, you’ve got to string strikes together to have a chance at a 30-point frame, or at least 28 or 29 points.

Spares are worth 10 to 19 points, depending on how many pins you knock down on your first ball. Knock down nine on the first ball, you get 19 if you spare that frame; knock down six and you get 16.

And open frames are still worth however many pins you get in the two balls together.

Sounds simple, right? Well, it is. But the effects can be quite dramatic.

One thing I missed in those matches was three shots taken by each player in the 10th frame. In this system, so that the maximum score is 300 and not 360, you’re only allowed one strike or one spare in the 10th. No “bonus” ball, since you already have your 30 for a single strike or 19 (or less) for a spare.

This system also inflates scores — just what we need, right? — because of the 30 you get without having to string strikes.

The most dramatic difference I think comes if you bowl a traditional Dutch 200, where by alternating strikes and spares you get a score of 20 each frame that becomes the 200.

The weird thing in World Bowling scoring is that there’s one score that is impossible to get — 20. You either get 30 for the strike or 10 to 19 for a spare.

I had to take pen to paper to figure what a Dutch 200 would compute to this new way. Assuming all spares were nine-counts on the first ball, I came up with 245 — alternating scores of 30 and 19 each frame.

That’s a score that could be tough to beat even with a string of five or six strikes that also includes an open frame or two.

Back in 2014, the World Bowling Tour tried a different, also supposedly simpler scoring method — the game’s 12 frames would be like “skins” in golf, so whoever does better each frame wins that frame with the most wins deciding the game.

OK, if this is all so simple, why is it so hard to explain?

For me, I’m happy with the traditional scoring system. If you don’t understand traditional scoring that well, don’t worry — that’s what automatic scorers were invented for.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.